Council asked to reconsider curbside fees
While residents do not pay a monthly fee for trash pickup in Summit County, the County Council may be asked to reconsider its stance on curbside fees during the 2016 budget process.
Last week, Solid Waste Superintendent Jaren Scott approached council members with his suggestions on how to reduce financial reliance on the county and push the landfill toward a self-sustaining future. Council member Roger Armstrong participated in the meeting via speakerphone and Council Chair Kim Carson was not present.
Included in those suggestions were various contractual partnerships and a resurrected proposal to impose county-wide monthly fees for trash pickup.
The County Council voted down the idea of implementing a $3 per household fee during the 2015 budget process in December. However, the council did approve a $5-per-ton increase in the tipping fees. About $275,000 is anticipated from the increases. Tipping fees support the county’s landfill, but waste collection is supplemented through the general fund.
A household waste fee would go toward the collection of waste and would start to offset what is typically taken from the general fund to balance the solid waste budget, which runs at an annual deficit of about $615,000, Scott said. Without a monthly charge, tipping fees would have to be increased an additional $11.20 per ton to offset the deficit.
Scott recommends what he calls a hybrid approach of an additional increase to the tipping fees and a monthly waste management fee. He suggested increasing the tipping fees an additional $3 and implementing a $2 per month household fee in 2016.
In order to budget the entire solid waste division, for collection and the landfill, fees would need to be $13 per month in addition to the $33 tipping fees, Scott said. He was under the impression that, while the County Council would not be willing to go to that extent on a first-time fee, they may consider phasing it in over the next few years.
"They can start as little as they want now or big as they want," Scott said. "They could start with $2 a month or go for the whole thing. I was just throwing out numbers. But moving forward, we want to put all solid waste under one big umbrella."
County-wide trash pickup is currently subsidized through the general fund. The county contracts with Republic Services.
"I think we are the only one (county) in the state that does not have a monthly fee. I get a lot of calls from people who move here and ask how to set up their monthly utility fees. There aren’t any other counties that fund their solid waste like we do and pay for it out of the general fund," Scott said. "We eventually want to have solid waste pay for itself and we have made a lot of good steps toward that."
The budget for the Three-Mile Canyon Landfill was declared an enterprise fund in 2012 to allow tracking of the revenues. A billing option will further provide more accountability for the services people are receiving and allow people to opt into additional programs, Scott said.
"We would like to add more services and, if we have a way to bill for that, we have a way for people to opt in to those," Scott said. "I think, as people get educated on what is going on and how the programs run, they will be supportive. As services increase it will cost more, but this gives us more options as far as glass, green waste and composting."
County member Chris Robinson agrees that the solid waste budget should become consolidated and self-sustaining. Robinson said that during the next several years the county should consider adjusting tipping and collection fees.
"My notion would be that we need that to account for capital and operating costs over the long haul and we should be collecting enough so we can plan ahead," he said.
However, Robinson acknowledge a concern raised by council member Dave Ure about the number of fee increases the County Council has implemented and the effect it could have on households on different ends of the economic spectrum.
"I’m sympathetic to the fact that a fee per household is regressive, meaning the mansion and the shack pay the same fee. There may be a better way to do it," Robinson said. "But I am grateful that the staff has brought it to our attention and put it back on the agenda. Jaren said, ‘We are just bringing it up for you to consider. Here’s our recommendation, you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.’ I’m grateful that he did bring it up so we can talk about it during budget."
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.